The Process of Designing a Product

The Process of Designing a Product

“In the days of Excel 1.0 through 4.0, most people at Microsoft thought that the most common user activity was doing financial what-ifscenarios… we only had to watch about five customers using the product before we realized that an enormous number of people just use Excel to keep lists.” – Joel Spolsky

If the Excel team can be this wrong, there’s no way on Earth you could be better. And by you I mean me. That snarky, overly cocky, pain in the ass version of me that I turn into when I fall in love with a design.


“Good UI sells software, but it also makes people happy, because people are happy when they accomplish the task they wanted to accomplish.” – Joel Spolsky

Why is this so rare? Why is this not always the goal? Why is this so often resisted by the stakeholders?

To summarize, designing good software takes about six steps:

  1. Invent some users
  2. Figure out the important activities
  3. Figure out the user model — how the user will expect to accomplish those activities
  4. Sketch out the first draft of the design
  5. Iterate over your design again and again, making it easier and easier until it’s well within the capabilities of your imaginary users
  6. Watch real humans trying to use your software” – Joel Spolsky

Don’t forget to include at least one naive user in step #1. If you don’t do that step #5 won’t work. Treat #6 as desert and look forward to it with anticipation.